Critic's Notebook: Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Bruce Springsteen Bring Holiday Joy to 'SNL'

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'Twas the week before the night after Christmas and with Amy Poehler and Tina Fey set to host the last Saturday Night Live of 2015, there were many questions.

How many favorite characters will Tina and Amy be able to reprise in 90 minutes? Or, put a different way, how many new sketches would there be time for with all of the inevitable favorites?

What big celebrity cameos were in store for the Yuletide episode, which has often been a catchall for any talent loitering in New York City for the holidays?

And, finally, with Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band as musical guest (only for the third time) for this particular episode, would "Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town" be played once, twice or nonstop through the entire show?

To take the last part first, The Boss and his guitar army played "Meet Me in the City" and "Ties That Bind" from The River sessions in their two full-fledged musical numbers, but the closing credits saw Bruce and Company joined by, of all people, Sir Paul McCartney, who smiled and played the bells and still managed to only barely win the title of The Episode's Most Glorified But Underused Cameo.

There was, after all, Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood" parody, "Tina and Amy's Dope Squad," in which the hosts answered a junket question — from Pop News Daily Aftershow Podcast.jpeg — with a tribute to their three nannies (Amy has two), shared gynecologist and celebrity friends Amy Schumer, fulfilling a quid pro quo for a previous Fey cameo, Gayle King and … Robert Downey Sr. No, not the star of Iron Man, but rather the director of Putney Swope

You would, however, have gotten much easier odds on a Maya Rudolph cameo, because holidays imply holiday music and when it comes to musical-variety, NBC and SNL both love some singing Maya Rudolph, even if it was only a '70s-set performance as a boozy artist singing "12 Days of Christmas" after 12 shots of rum. Rudolph also teamed with Amy for the return of "Bronx Beat with Betty and Jodi," including Fey as Betty's cousin Karen, with her Philadelphia accent and countless repetitions of "water" (or "wooder").

Perhaps because the Sisters stars didn't want to be sharing the spotlight with anybody from The Force Awakens or various other end-of-year releases, the only other guest cameo was the it-hardly-even-counts appearance by Darrell Hammond as Donald Trump

But "Bronx Beat" was not the extent of the returning sketches and characters.

Sure to get much of the show's viral distribution tonight was Kate McKinnon and Amy Poehler doing dueling Hillarys in a "Christmas Carol" sketch that also brought back Tina Fey's Sarah Palin. Was it especially topical? Nah. They could barely strain to justify Palin's presence at all, other than offering advice including "If it gets too hard, just quit. Who cares?" But was it amusing? Sure, especially with Poehler and McKinnon playing off of each other's different hairstyles and Clintonian mannerisms.

Oddly, the night's other returning character wasn't even from the Poehler/Fey rotation, but rather Kenan Thompson bringing back his Jeffersons-trained director to give some really bad advice to Poehler and Fey as the stars of a Carol-esque period drama.

Poehler and Fey, both Weekend Update icons, appeared at the end of this week's installment and delivered 2015's last jokes, but the segment was left mostly to Colin Jost and Michael Che, dashing hopes for a Seth Meyers or Jimmy Fallon drop-by.

Other than "Tina and Amy's Dope Squad," the show's most memorable new sketch, and one unlikely to be repeated in the future, was "Meet Your Second Wife," a not-really-game-show that introduced three happily married men to their future second wives, an eighth-grader, a 5-year-old and a fetus in Cecily Strong. It was a simple and biting concept executed in three clean, steadily escalating punchlines, with amusing reactive work from Aidy Bryant and Leslie Jones. The sketch made its point nicely and didn't overstay its welcome, just a tight piece of writing that sure felt like it came from Fey and Poehler, who played the hosts of the show.

With its couple funny moments and a nicely sentimental capper, wrapped around the usual SNL unevenness, the Tina/Amy episode was a fitting closer to a fall that has seen emotional episodes (Tracy Morgan's return), strong episodes from funny women (Elizabeth Banks, Amy Schumer), uneven episodes from hunks (the McConaughey-Gosling-Hemsworth streak is one for the books) and The Donald Trump Debacle.